Far removed from the frenetic pace of Hong Kong, in the midst of rolling green hills on Lantau island, lies the Po Lin monastery. The biggest attraction here is the world's largest bronze statue of the seated Buddha. Perched on top of a hill, it towers benignly over the countryside and is an impressive sight.
Although there are ferries, subways and buses to get to the monastery, we took the scenic cable cars to get there. Strung across several hills, these glass bottomed cable cars offer phenomenal views of the lush countryside and are a relaxed, enjoyable way to get to your destination.
This beautiful, working monastery is home to many Buddhist monks who you will see strolling about in the monastery grounds. The temples here are also beautiful and many pilgrims come from far to pray.
Strolling through the grounds which are filled with beautiful foliage, enjoying the cool mountain air while admiring the statues that line the path is very relaxing. The air is scented with incense sticks that worshipers light before going to pray in the temples.
We climbed 260 steps to get to the Big Buddha statue. Unfortunately, fog had rolled in by the time we got to the top and we couldn't see much of it. However, the peace and serenity at the top was palpable and well worth the climb!
After you've worked up an appetite, climbing up and down those steps leading to the Big Buddha statue, you can revive yourself with wonderful vegetarian food in the monastery. Not only is the food delicious and hugely popular, you are also contributing towards a good cause, as all proceeds go towards supporting the monks.
We had the deluxe vegetarian meal in the monastery dining room, where you might find monks sitting at the table next to you, and the food is always fresh, tasty and completely vegetarian. Our meal comprised of soup, stir fried vegetables, spring rolls and deep fried sheets of tofu bathed in a sweetish lemony sauce. This was by far our favourite, although we're still not sure whether or not this was dessert!
My mango creme caramel is an Indian-Chinese twist of the traditional dessert. Adding mango pulp to creme caramel takes it to a whole new level! The texture is denser and silkier and the flavour is richer and deeper. There's no going back after this!
Canned mango pulp is easily obtained from any Indian grocery store. Make sure to buy sweetened Alphonso mango pulp for better flavour. Don't use fresh mango puree as it just doesn't work well here.
Mango Creme Caramel
1 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 can (370 ml) evaporated milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup canned sweetened mango pulp
2 tbsp finely chopped unsalted raw pistachios, optional
Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly spray 8-10 medium ramekins with cooking spray. Place on rimmed baking tray.
Place sugar in medium heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat. Let sugar begin to melt, then swirl pan around a few times, every so often. Don’t let sugar boil or bubble and don't use a stirring spoon. Keep swirling till all the sugar has melted and turned darker in colour, about 3-4 min. Switch off stove and let saucepan sit on warm stove another minute to darken further without risk of burning.
Pour caramel mixture evenly into prepared ramekins. Let cool 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine whole eggs and yolks with evaporated milk, cream and mango pulp. Mix well with a whisk.
Pour into prepared ramekins, filling them to about halfway to the top.
Place tray in oven, then gently pour in hot tap water into tray till it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until center is just firm. Do not over-bake. Check for done-ness after about 45 minutes or so by gently shaking the ramekins. If the center wiggles, give them some more time.
Remove from oven and place ramekins on counter to cool. When they are down to room temperature, loosen edges by running a sharp knife around the edges of the custards.
Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 24 hours. When ready to serve, leave custards on counter top for 15 min. Shake ramekin gently to loosen caramel, then unmold by holding a plate over each ramekin and turning upside down. The custard will settle onto the plate with the caramel pooling around it. Garnish tops of each with chopped pistachios (if using).